Innovator Spotlight: [email protected]

An Interview with Samuel Mugisha, Co-Founder and Director of [email protected]

Tell us about your innovation. What is the problem? What solution are you offering?

[email protected] is based in Uganda and solves two major problems through our two primary products. Seventy percent of hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa still use paper records. This comes with many challenges, including patient safety (it is difficult to efficiently track what medicines patients are allergic to, for example), high costs, higher chance of errors, drug expiry due to poor inventory management, drug losses, and drug misallocations. [email protected] HMIS (Health Management Information System) does two key things: (1) enables hospitals to deliver clinical excellence and (2) helps hospitals to stop losing money. 

Then we have a new product, which we have launched recently called [email protected] Ubuntu, which addresses the issue of affordability in healthcare. There's a problem called BSD: borrow, sell or die. What we know is that 30% of households in Africa borrow from moneylenders, friends or relatives to pay for healthcare. According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people in Africa alone are pushed into extreme poverty every year in order to pay for healthcare. And then we have an estimated 1.6 million people that die every year because they couldn't afford healthcare. Borrow, sell or die is a very big problem and [email protected] Ubuntu leverages the power of community groups and technology to provide people affordable healthcare for as low as $6 per year. We have community health insurance products where groups (women groups, savings groups, churches, schools) come together and, by pooling their resources, they're able to access care for all acute conditions at premiums of $6 per year and every time they visit the hospital they pay a copayment of $1. At the moment, we work with not-for-profit hospitals for this product to deliver healthcare to the bottom of the pyramid.

What is a recent example of progress? What are you currently celebrating?

We are currently celebrating that we were the overall winners of the Swiss Re Foundation’s Entrepreneurs for Resilience Award 2022. This is a big competition that attracts competitors from all over the world and this year there were 264 candidates from 81 countries that applied. [email protected] was the overall winner and we won a grant of $350,000 that will enable us to extend affordable healthcare to at least 150,000 more people in the next two years. 

Health facilities in rural Africa are often not well resourced. As a result, they struggle to adopt technology, attract top talent and to deliver high quality healthcare. [email protected] Health Uganda has developed innovations that are solving all these problems. They are digitizing health records and processes to enable health workers to meet clinical guidelines of care. They are also expanding access to care for rural communities by providing technology to enable them to administer pooled funds. Through innovation they have a way for the health system to deliver quality, without leaving anyone behind. - Moses Waweru, Portfolio Manager

What are the primary challenges you’re currently facing?

At the moment, we are also trying to do pilot projects in Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique so we are actually raising more money to do this. As we are doing the work in Uganda, we also want to run some pilot projects in those countries so we are raising an additional $600,000 to expand into those three countries. We are also hiring people to join our teams. We’re looking for people with skills in data science, fundraising as well as others. 

Over the course of developing your innovation, what is something you have learned that stands out and that might help other innovators?

There are so many lessons that we have learned along the way, but number one is the power of partnerships. The challenges that we are solving are very, very difficult; they are not easy to solve as just one company. So we have experienced the power of partnerships. Our partnerships have been very useful, including with Villgro, the Ugandan Protestant Medical Bureau, local hospitals, and now Swiss Re. All these partnerships break barriers and help us overcome challenges that would otherwise be very difficult to overcome. One thing every startup should think about is investing the time to nurture partnerships, both locally and internationally, from companies and individuals whose advantage you can leverage to grow your company. 

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

Villgro has really helped. One major thing that Villgro helped us with was aligning the sales process. They paid for us to take a training course called Exceptional Sales Results. Sales is not an easy area, so this helped us to understand and establish a sales process. 

Villgro also paid for us to do a course Raise the Round by Iddo Tal, an experienced fundraiser whose course was very useful. Some of the material that we used to compete for the Swiss Re application was from this course. We took the knowledge from the course and used it to align our pitch deck and that was very key in our success against fierce competition. So there has been connections to training programs that have been very, very essential to our company. 

Villgro has also opened up some linkages to partners, both locally here in Uganda and now helping us with expansion to Kenya. Several introductions have been made to companies from across the world, which has already been useful in our journey. Villgro has also helped us realise our impact by supporting us with the creation of customer surveys to learn how people perceive our products and services. That has been major because we've seen our impact is out there and they've helped us realise that.